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Creativity, Motivation, and Activation Energy

Activation energy is a chemistry term that describes the amount of energy needed for a chemical reaction to take place. This is about the only concept I took from my high school chemistry class, a class which I failed. As in F. So I promise that the science metaphors end right now. I don’t know why that one thing stuck with me, but it did.

Anyway, I consider myself to be a person with a high activation energy. That is, the amount of work I have to put into getting myself to actually sit down and work is incredible. It is a constant, epic struggle to force things to come out of my fingers, whether it is editing or writing or whatever. One of my favorite tricks is the “Don’t get up until the CD is done” trick. Unfortunately, about half the time it leads to 35 minutes of staring at the screen of my laptop. Another good thing to get me working is feeling bad. Not really bad, like “let me die, I’m ill” bad, but like “I’m physical exhausted but cranked full of caffeine” bad. Throw the trailing end of a hangover into that mix and I’m at my sharpest, most biting, most cynical, and I’m good for about 2 hours of work. There is a precarious balance with the hangover though. If it was too strong, or not strong enough, then the whole setup is shot and I am back to my starting point of not doing a god damned thing. My newest trick which is still not thoroughly tested is this blog. Perhaps if I write often enough in this thing for the small handful of people who actually bother to read it I will get my gears going and teach myself how to work on a schedule. We will see.

So what’s the deal? I feel motivated to create personal work. In fact, when I do manage to get something done, I feel great. I am amped up. Wired. I have a hard time getting to sleep which is usually bad since by the time I’ve managed to do something it’s 3am on a weeknight/morning. (I know that the excess of caffeine in my blood might be the culprit, but please just let me have this one? Thanks.) Maybe feeling satisfied isn’t enough? I’ve often noticed of myself that I perform better when I am beholden to someone else, when I am responsible for something that is being counted on by someone whose opinion I value. Ok, that’s good, but I don’t really owe my personal work to anyone but myself, and I’m pretty sure that I will understand my own excuse for not actually producing anything by my self-imposed deadline. I can be very understanding if I need to be. Also, we’ve seen in the failure of 3 attempts at the Greater Williamsburg Writing Circle that even the expectations of others can miss the mark as a powerful enough motivator. Let’s hope that the planned fourth attempt in conjunction with my friends and allies at Uncle Magazine and The Metric System finds more success than the last three.

I don’t think that creativity is something I lack. Productivity, yes. Absolutely. I produce at the pitiful rate of one decent short piece every millennium or so and at times less often. But, creativity no. It comes out of me at inopportune times however, like when I’m walking around alone without anything to take notes on. Or I have a flood of creative blathering at lunch that takes the definition of “offensive” to new heights (lows?), but it refuses to flow when I am sitting down with my headphones on staring at the blank screen in Scrivener trying to do something, anything, God please just let me write something good. I do have to say that fullscreen mode is invaluable to shutting out whatever distractions my brain keeps jumping to and the black background, gray text combo I set makes it much easier to stare at the screen for a long time without any eye fatigue. Black text on a white page is nice because the white page isn’t a light shining directly into your eyes for hours. I could punch a bitch for all the white page/black text the interwebs subject me to on a daily basis. But all the fullscreens in the world aren’t enough to keep my focus for very long. Distraction is only an Apple-Tab away.

With these data in mind, what is the solution to creating a healthy, productive working environment and schedule for myself? In the last few weeks I have put myself on drinking hiatus and it seems to be helping me have moments of electric inspiration which gets transcribed to the writing tablet I keep beside the bed. It is surprising that one wonderful beer after work is enough to dull my brain to a point where nothing smart or good wants to come out of it. Or not surprising, I guess. That is good, but I miss beers. I have also found that reading non-fiction is a great way to get my mind thinking about something other than what I am reading. Most of what I read for pleasure is fiction, and when I get into it, which is most of the time, I am totally wrapped up in what is going on in the story, between the characters, and in the text. My brain is focused. When I read non-fiction, especially dry non-fiction, my brain wanders and little bursts of goodness erupt, tiny undersea volcanoes of creativity. That is good too, but I can only take so much dry non-fiction before I want to throw up. I would love to figure out how to get my brain into that not-drinking not-fiction place while drinking and reading fiction. I also wish I had a unicorn and superpowers, but we can’t have everything we want, can we? And, if I magically am blessed with profound, focused creativity, how do I translate that into productivity? How do you spin wool into gold? There are a whole bunch of obvious answers to this—persistence, determination, perseverance. But I don’t care for these broadly applicable answers; I want something for myself.

The question remains: what magic thing does Joe need to learn about himself to overcome this creative slump he’s felt mired in for the last few years? Will writing about himself in the third person aid in any way? Does anyone even care? Will anyone even read this far? Tacos?

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